I awoke this morning to a headline in my Google news feed that read "Sherlock Holmes Writer Wasn't Involved in Human Ancestor Hoax."
And my first thought was, "Of course he wasn't. Watson had nothing to do with that."
The "Piltdown Man," archeological fraud from the early 1900s, has long been a bit like the Jack the Ripper murders to fossil geeks, a curious historical footnote where a criminal seems to have gotten away with going undiscovered. And where there is crime in Britain, who do we always turn to as a suspect?
One Arthur Conan Doyle.
Known for having perpetrated a few harmless frauds like his Professor Challenger pictures and helping popularize some others, like the Cottingley fairies or certain seance trickery, Conan Doyle makes an easy target. Especially after he convinced the world that our records of the world's greatest solver of crime was written by him and not John H. Watson, M.D.
These latest series of articles may report that a study seems to have cleared Doyle of any wrongdoing in the Piltdown business, but his biggest hoax lives on, with his name still appearing on the spine of every single copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in existence. There have been writers who foolishly attempted to claim that Doyle stole work like The Hound of the Baskervilles from another writer, like Fletcher Robinson, but poor John Watson remains, to this day, uncredited by society at large.
The greatest fans of Watson's writings have cherished their grasp of Watson's authorship for a good century now, while those more fearful of being locked away in a madhouse, as many intellectual dissidents of history have been, timidly add "but we really know Conan Doyle wrote them . . . we're just playing." And Conan Doyle's truly great hoax lives on.
But the times are changing. A great share of Americans recently saw past the accepted fraud that a reality TV show character's leadership traits were thought to be, and nominated him to run their country. Perhaps now those same folk can see through Doyle's fraud and help us give John Watson the credit he deserves.
For the moment though, at least one headline has let us know that Watson had nothing to do with that Piltdown man business. I'm still a little bit suspicious of Arthur Conan Doyle, however. (And he's got that weird assassin/serial killer three-names thing going, doesn't he? Maybe we should get back to the Ripper theory . . .)